Ready to Roll

Oakland's Junkyard Dogs gear up to bloody Steve Wozniak in an international tournament of Segway polo. That's right: Segway polo.

Drew Foster points to the small, rusty bloodstain on the silver handlebars of his Segway x2 scooter. “You see that?” he says. “That’s Steve Wozniak’s blood.” Wozniak, cofounder of Apple Computer, the man who’s, like, the original geek, the one who made nerds popular, lost his blood to Foster in a spirited game of Segway polo. “I used to have it on my mallet, too,” Foster says. “When he got hit, he kind of splattered.”

As Dire Straits noted, sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger, baby, and sometimes you’re the ball. In the Bay Area, which one you are depends on which Segway polo team you join.

That Woz is a participant in the sport is perhaps no surprise. It’s a game that, according to tech-news site CNET, “combines the dorkiness of riding a Segway with the snobbery of a polo match” — in other words, perfect for a competitive millionaire geek. Wozniak’s team, the Silicon Valley Aftershocks, comprises mostly techies, such as Alex Ko, one of the Bay Area’s original Segway polo players, a superstar on the pitch and a mechanical engineer off it. The Aftershocks’ prominent nontechie is goalie Victor Miller, a colorfully tattooed 67-year-old who wrote the original Friday the 13th and won several Daytime Emmy awards for his work on soap operas. “I like Segway polo because everyone goes the same speed,” he says. “It’s the great equalizer.”

Oakland’s Junkyard Dogs covet a slightly tougher image. Take Drew Foster, a 37-year-old Oaklander who leads off-road Segway tours of the East Bay. He’s louder, brasher, and way more aggressive than his Peninsula rivals. “When I first saw a Segway I thought it was a geek machine,” he says. “I was, like, ‘How can I make this cool?’ Because I don’t want to be a geek.”

Foster’s team split from the Silicon Valley group last February, partly, he says, to give them someone to play against, and partly because of that clash in styles. “When I first started, I thought it was going to be like one of those golf polo things,” he says. “Go out, get drunk, wreck things. Then it got competitive.”

Nevertheless, most Bay Area Segway polo enthusiasts — all 25 or so of ’em — play with a level of gentility that requires that you bail out before crashing into another player, apologize for getting in someone’s way, and don’t do too much of what the hockey guys might call “stick work” with the mallet.

With Foster, it’s more a game of twelve-mile-per-hour chicken. He doesn’t slack off going after the ball, because he knows the other riders probably will. If they don’t, well, he has his own technique of using his oversize, knobby off-road tires to tap the other rider’s wheels, causing a generally interesting level of mayhem. “With these tires I can roll up on a street machine; it’ll stop them and they’ll go flying off,” he says. “It’s frowned upon, except on this team.”

“We’re kind of like the original Oakland Raiders,” Junkyard Dogs teammate Mike Dupray says. “The Aftershocks can play hard, too, no mistake,” Junkyard Dogs manager Steve Ozdemir adds. “But they’re a little more gentlemanly.”

Foster, though, says both teams try to get an edge. “We’re mean,” he says. “They cheat.” (He emphasizes that the rivals get along just fine off the pitch.)

Viewed as a spectator sport, well, a bunch of mallet-wielding guys riding self-balancing wheeled scooters and whacking a grapefruit-size foam ball around a grass field is about exactly as weird a thing to watch as you might expect. There’s a pickup game every other Sunday at a suburban park in Sunnyvale, mostly with members of the Aftershocks. Players yell instructions over the hum of the Segways — “Stay with it! Oh! Under you! Got your back! Now! Now! Keep it goin’!” — and play several chukkers (that’s polo speak for “quarters”). The guys head to lunch afterward, where they sit around and discuss life, work, and their $5,000-plus machines over pizza or burgers. It’s really all about socializing. “Lunch? That’s the best part!” goalkeeper Miller says.

There’s less old-guy-teammate-style camaraderie at Wednesday evening practices in Oakland. There you’ll find Foster and his teenaged sons doing cone drills, or a small group playing fast-paced games of three-on-three on the ragged field of Jack London Aquatic Center.

When two bikers ride by, Foster quickly pitches them on Segway adventure tours. Within minutes, he has one of the bikers tottering away across the field on an off-road Segway, while he tells the other about the trips he does on East Bay trails.

“Oh, God,” the man says, stomping his foot. “That’s gotta be awesome!”

The bikers ask about Segway polo, and Foster says, well, today they’re just practicing, but they’ve got a big tournament coming up.

The tourney’s name, in fact, is the WOZ Cup — named after Aftershocks stud Wozniak. Last February, New Zealand’s Pole Blacks won the trophy on their home ground, but this year’s tournament happens in San Francisco in mid-September. Participants include the Aftershocks, Junkyard Dogs, and the Pole Blacks, plus teams from Los Angeles, France, Italy, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates.

Foster’s competitive drive has kicked in for the tournament. He’s been working on strategies, trying to decide between man defense and zone defense, and determining which Aftershocks players to double-team. As one of the better players on that team, Wozniak may find himself on the list. The Junkyard Dogs, after all, may have Woz’ blood — but they don’t yet have his cup.


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